Charles Keating, onetime owner of the failed Lincoln Savings & Loan Assn., may symbolize the greed that created the S&L crisis: He left taxpayers with $3.4 billion in losses and left investors holding nearly $250 million in worthless bonds. But on Dec. 3, the day after an appeals court overturned his conviction, Keating, 73, was still unrepentant. "You have to live in the time, period, place you are in. That's what I did," he says.

What now? Keating may finally be off the legal hook. The feds no doubt will contest the ruling, but experts think they will ultimately back down.

Keating, meanwhile, says he's broke. Lincoln bondholders, who won a 1994 civil suit against him, have made claims Keating says will cost him up to $6 billion. Since October, when he was released on bail, Keating has been staying with a daughter in Arizona. "I have five daughters, one son, and 29 grandchildren. I ought to be able to find a place to eat," he says. Meanwhile, the self-described "eternal optimist" says he's scoping out business opportunities.

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